Sunday, April 16, 2023

Cowie's Art College Students

                              James Cowie, Falling Leaves, H 102 x W 86 cm, 1934,  Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums

James Cowie (16 May 1886 – 18 April 1956) was a Scottish painter and teacher, known for his linear style and meticulous attention to composition. He originally studied English Literature at university, worked briefly as a school teacher, then quit to enroll at Glasgow School of Art  where he obtained his degree in 1914. He immediately began teaching art, though this was disrupted by the first World War. Cowie was a conscientious objector but was in the Non-Combatant Corps during the war, resuming his teaching career at the war's close.

           James Cowie, An Outdoors School of Painting, 1934-41, oil on canvas, 34 x 65 inches, Tate

Cowie took an art teaching position at Hospitalfield House in the 1930's, and the painting above (considered unfinished) was from this period. Cowie was able to lead summer classes for students at this art college and art center known for its beautiful architecture and gardens, and this painting appears to be set in the grounds of the art school. Due to its large size and complex composition it was probably mainly worked on in the studio.

While the artist exhibited his work regularly in group art shows, he did not have his first solo exhibition until he was nearly 50 years old, at the Mclellan Galleries in Glasgow. He seems to have been a dedicated and sought-after art teacher, while also working consistently on his own paintings and drawings. This is a difficult balance to achieve so he deserves a lot of respect for how he managed his working life. He had many students who went on to achieve considerable notice, including Joan Eardley.

How did I hear about James Cowie? I am reading a novel by Alexander McCall Smith, The Geometry of Holding Hands, and in it two of the characters briefly discuss a painting by Cowie. Intrigued, I immediately googled the artist and realized that I'd seen some of his work in person (I spent a year living in Scotland many years ago) and also that he had created several pieces that fit the criteria of this blog! What a great find. Thank you Mr. McCall Smith!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Amazing Ivana!

Ivana Kobilca, self-portrait,1894-5
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

I find this self portrait by Slovenian artist Ivana Kobilca (1861-1926) to be compelling and also a bit mysterious! Beautiful strong brushwork and subtle, sure, color hit the eye, along with the engaging gaze of the artist. It looks like it was painted for fun, alla prima, perhaps as a way to use up the paint left on her palette from one of her more careful and studied studio oeuvres. One of the artist's most famous works, Summer, shows her lush Realist style, painted only 5 years previously. This is quicker, looser, more informal, lighter in tone. Seems like a very different period in the artist's development to me.  In addition, I think that in this painting  Ivana looks far older than the 33 or 34 years she would be if this piece is dated correctly. Note the gray hair at her temple? So, I'm wondering if this piece is misdated. What do you think?

Ivana Kobilca was born in Llubljna, Slovenia (the country formerly know as Yugoslavia.) She was the daughter of a wealthy and supportive family, one which placed a high importance on education.  She learned drawing from an early age and studied with artist Ida Künl. When she was 16, she accompanied her father on a business trip to Vienna; this was a transformative experience for the young artist. Inspired by the incredible art she saw there, she soon afterwards  left Slovenia to study in Vienna and Munich for about ten years.

             Another Self-portrait 1893-5  (with shadowy palette) courtesy of the National Gallery of Slovenia

Punctuated by visits home, she then traveled, lived and worked in various other European capitals, like Florence and Paris, for the greater part of her adult life. She lived for quite some time in Sarajevo, and then Berlin, and then finally returned to Ljubljana just before the First World War. At the time of her death in 1926 she was described as the greatest female painter in the country.

I wish I knew something about her personal life, but none of the articles I read say anything about it. No marriages, children or close friendships are mentioned, though we know people do not exist in a vacuum! I'm kind of annoyed by her Wikipedia page which ends the otherwise decent biography by castigating her for not changing her style to Impressionism like all the other artists were doing at the time, and also characterizes her later work as "dull." None of the images I was able to find appear dull to me...maybe it's a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Also, I really dislike when artists get criticized for staying true to their inner passion and not following current trends like the rest of the sheep. Just saying... ;-) 

Ivana Kobilca is now regarded as one of the the most important Slovenian artists, male or female, of her time! She has posthumously received numerous honors, such as her portrait appearing on a Slovenian banknote:

Her life and work were also the focus of a recent major exhibition, 21 June 2018 – 10 February 2019, at the National Gallery of Slovenia. She is quoted as having said, "Painting is something beautiful..." and she seemed to have wanted to inhabit that beauty her entire life. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mysterious Michaelina

Michaelina Wautier "Self Portrait with Easel" oil on linen 1649 private collection
To be honest I'd never heard of this artist before last night! I was scrolling through some paintings online, when this beautiful image caught my eye:

Michaelina Wautier, "Saint Agnes and Saint Dorothea" oil on linen 17thC Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
I thought it was a particularly fetching Rubens, and clicked to learn more. To my surprise it was credited to Michaelina Wautiers instead, an artist I had never heard of before. Intrigued, I did some quick research and feel compelled to share what I could dig up.

Michaelina Wautier (sometimes her last name is spelled Woutiers) was an artist from what was then called the Southern Netherlands, an area now mainly in modern day Belgium and Luxembourg. Very little is known of her life but she was active in Brussels, 1617-1689, where she lived with her brother, the artist Charles Wautier, and another painter. She was supported by art patron Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria who acquired at least four of her works for his renowned art collection. Wautier painted with mastery in multiple genres, skillfully producing portraits and still-lives, as well as history and religious scenes. Her self-portrait (first image) was included in the ground-breaking Women Painters of the World, published in 1905, but it was erroneously attributed to the contemporary (but twenty years older) Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. About thirty extant paintings are definitively attributed to Michaelina Wautier, who was well-known and respected during her lifetime, thus leading to a paper trail of documentation, diary mentions, sales receipts and notations about commissions etc.

Wautier will receive long overdue attention some time later this year when the first solo exhibition of her work will be held in June 2018 at the Rubens House, co-sponsored by MAS/Museum aan de Stroom, in Antwerp. Interestingly, there is an urgent International Art Search ongoing for six lost paintings by Wautier, whereabouts currently unknown, which the curator and museum are hoping to locate before this exhibit! Lots of excitement building about this talented and hitherto almost forgotten artist, Michaelina Wautier!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Tribute to Paula Modersohn-Becker on her Birthday

Paula Modersohn-Becker Painting in the Garden, Otto Modersohn, July 19 1901

Today is the 142nd birthday of painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907!) She is one of my very favorite artists, which actually makes it difficult to write about her. There is so much I want to say that I have to rein myself in and sort carefully through the avalanche of  thoughts and feelings I have about her life and her work. Her work reaches out and grabs at my heart.

It is a sad fact for me that Modersohn-Becker did not seem to have created any artistic works showing herself or any other woman at work creating art or with the tools of her artistic trade close to hand. Those are my firm parameters for Women in The Act of Painting. While she portrayed women constantly and herself frequently (she was one of the first European artists, male or female, to depict herself nude) her self portraits mainly show her holding flowers or babies. And same for her portraits of other women and girls. These paintings speak eloquently to my heart, but are also a frustration for me, as the creator of the Women in the Act of Painting project. It does make me search harder, deeper and wider though, which can be part of the fun of doing this project, uncovering little known images. If anyone reading this finds a Modersohn-Becker WAP piece, a drawing, print or painting, please let me know!

I found one oil sketch of Modersohn-Becker painting, created by her husband Otto Modersohn (1865-1943), himself a really excellent painter. He was one of the co-founders of the Worpswede Artist's Colony where he and the younger Paula Becker met.  The colony was famed for its gorgeous gardens, and this painting was almost certainly painted there, probably en plein air. I don't have all the details about this piece despite hours of searching, and I'd love to know its dimensions or current location. If anyone knows, please get in touch! During their lifetimes, Otto Modersohn was by far the better known and more highly respected artist of the couple, but now his reputation is very much secondary to hers. No need to feel too sorry for the fellow however, as he does have an entire museum dedicated to his work! He is best known for his beautiful landscapes and pastoral scenes.

And, what an unalloyed thrill to see that Paula Modersohn-Becker is today's Google Doodle!  A Google Doodle is the biographical/historical image (with informational links) that decorates the Google search engine site, and which changes daily. This is the second time I've used a Google Doodle on WAP. The first time was last year's doodle celebrating the sculptor Edmonia Lewis! I was so grateful for that doodle because w/o it I didn't have a way to showcase Lewis using the WAP parameters: there are no art images of her at work. I am finding myself frequently thankful to the Google Doodle folks for their WAP help. Much appreciation to Google Doodle!

The young Paula Becker had to fight her family's expectations for her (they wanted her to become a teacher) in order to study art. While spending a summer at the Worpswede Art Colony with her friend, the sculptor Clara Westhoff (who later married Rainer Maria Rilke) Paula fell in love with the painter Otto Modersohn, a widower with a young child. They married and had a complicated relationship. Modersohn-Becker seemed afraid of becoming too enmeshed in the wifely domestic expectations of women at that time, fearing (correctly) that such would would limit her ability to do her art work. While she apparently doted on her stepdaughter and was a fond wife to Otto, she also frequently took long trips apart from the Modersohn household, studying in Paris, for instance. Her strong desire to experience pregnancy and motherhood, which can be seen in so many of her paintings, eventually led to her agree to becoming pregnant. The couple was joyful. But in a stroke of tragic irony, Paula Modersohn-Becker died of complications following the birth of her baby. She was thirty-four years old.

I urge you to read more about Paula Modersohn-Becker (there are several biographies) or simply do an image search for her work on-line. There is something so open and strong about her work. Earthy, literal, yet sublime, ineffable. Apparently simple, but actually complex. I love that combination. As a very young artist I copied a couple of paintings she did just for my own satisfaction, perhaps as a way to try and internalize some of her spirit. Maybe I will try that again! Yes, her life was cut short, but Modersohn-Becker was always trying new things and learning, and I suspect she always would have been, even had she lived a longer time. She was an explorer and and an innovator. Happy Birthday Paula!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Swooning for Swoon

Swoon, Nee Nee, 2014, Ink, Paper and Wheat paste. London.
Swoon is the nom de brosse of Caledonia Curry (b. 1977) a multi-media artist based in New York. While her projects take many different forms, she is probably most well known for her street art, in particular her series of large intricately cut paper prints which she wheat pastes to disused or empty buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and around the world, too. These prints are complex portraits, depicting friends and family. Her style is inspired by many sources such as folk art, German Expressonist woodblock prints and Indonesian puppets.

The artist is deeply engaged by current events and has created work in response to Hurricane Sandy and the earthquakes in Haiti. She is one of the originators of Konbit Shelter, a sustainable building project in Haiti, and has been centrally involved in several other fascinating projects relating to both art and social issues. In 2015 Curry founded The Heliotrope Foundation.

Curry received her BFA from the Pratt Institute in New York City in 2002. She has been included in several museum shows and in 2014 had a site specific installation at the Brooklyn Museum called Submerged Motherlands. To see more of the artist's portfolio, check out her beautiful website!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Art Class and Beyond

Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Libour, The Art Class, 1891, oil on linen, 63.5 x 89 inches, private collection
Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Latour (1831 - 1916) was born in Paris. She studied with several well-known painters of the day, including François Bonvin and Charles Louis Lucien Muller, as well as sculptor François Rude.

This charming scene, entitled, The Art Class, shows an all-female atelier, which was probably how Colin-Libour started her own art education before later studying "seriously" with her male teachers. It is fun to think the intent young girl, being kindly guided by her instructress, is a self-portrait of Colin-Libour as a precociously talented child, and the more self-assured young woman making friendly eye contact with the viewer is the artist too, in a later stage of development. This is just my theory.

Colin-Libour exhibited in the art pavilion  of the Woman's Building in the Chicago World Exposition of 1893, which means she must have been held in high regard. This was an honor accorded only to the very best woman artists of the day, representing their different countries. The paintings Colin-Libour exhibited can be seen here.

Woman's Building Poster, 1893, Madeleine LeMaire
It is worth noting that the poster for this ground-breaking exhibition was designed by french artist Madeleine LeMaire, who was a fascinating person too! As well as being a talented professional artist, she held a renowned weekly salon for Parisian intellectuals and artists. LeMaire was the inspiration for the character of Madame Verdurin in Marcel Proust's seven part novel A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrances of Things Past) published 1871-1922.

Back to Uranie Alphonsine Colin-Libour, the only other significant piece of information I have found out about her is that she is included in the important book, Women Painters of the World, published in 1905, an overview of all the prominent (European) female artists (or those deemed prominent by the editor) up to that time. This is an absolutely  seminal book for the history of art, and for the history of women's art in particular, and means that Colin-Libour had to have been considered one of the very best of the best. If only more was known about her today!

Woman Painters of the World, Walter Shaw Sparrow, 1905

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Another Thamar

Thamar painting the goddess Diana. From Boccaccio, Des cleres et nobles femmes, De claris mulieribus in an anonymous French translation c. 1400-25, French (Paris). Collection of the British Library, MS Royal 20 C V f. 90

Thamar (5th century BC) was a well-known painter in ancient Greece. There are no standard spellings of names translated from ancient tongues and so you will see this same artist also referred to as Tamar, Tamara, Thamyris, Thamaris and Timarete. Her father was the painter, Micon the Younger, and she learned the painting trade from him. In those times trades and professions were traditionally kept within families. Pliny the Elder wrote of her in his famous tome Natural History (77 CE) saying, "...she scorned the duties of women, and practised her father's art." Whether or not Thamar actually scorned anything we will never know, but she was extremely good at painting and her fame lives on, although there are no known extant examples of her work. Most painting at that time was done as fresco or mural, and the majority of architectural structures of that period have been ruined by the passage of time, or demolished, or subsumed by later renovation.

This is a 15th century rendition of Thamar, which accompanies text by Bocaccio, from his book Of Noble Women written in the early 1400's. It was a runaway "best-seller" of the times! Because so many copies were made of this book there are numerous illuminations (text illustrations) of Thamar, and as was usual at the time, the artist from ancient times was dressed in the fashion of the "present" day. In this image by an unknown French artist we see Thamar painting what was probably her best-known work, a depiction of the goddess Diana. That masterwork was famous in her day and after and was long displayed in a position of reverence at the temple of Epheseus. Unfortunately, that temple was completely destroyed in 401 A.D. by a Christian mob led by St. John Chrysostom.

For more depictions of Thamar, please look in the side bar where you will see this is one of several! Click on "Thamar" to see them all! :-)

Don't forget, to enlarge this or any WAP image for better viewing pleasure, just click on it!